By Norman Solomon
If Joe Biden fully meant what he said after meeting with George Floyd’s family in the Oval Office on Tuesday, he won’t nominate Rahm Emanuel to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan. But recent news reports tell us that’s exactly what the president intends to do.
After the meeting, Biden declared that the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer “launched a summer of protest we hadn’t seen since the Civil Rights era in the ’60s — protests that peacefully unified people of every race and generation to collectively say enough of the senseless killings.” The words were valuable, and so was the symbolism of the president hosting loved ones of Floyd on the first anniversary of his death.
But the value of the White House event will be weakened if Biden names Emanuel to one of this country’s top diplomatic posts — despite his well-earned notoriety for the cover-up of a video showing the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
When McDonald was shot dead by Chicago police one night in October 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was facing a tough re-election fight. Fortunately, a dash camera on a police car captured the murder on video. Unfortunately, Emanuel’s administration suppressed the video for 13 months, until after Emanuel won re-election.
Imagine if — when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds — there had been no civilian with a cell phone able to record the murder, and the only visual record of what happened was a police video. And imagine if the city of Minneapolis had suppressed that video for 13 months, until a judge’s order finally forced its release.
That would be Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago.
When reports surfaced last November that Biden was considering Emanuel for a cabinet position, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointed out: “Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership.” Then-Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “That he’s being considered for a cabinet position is completely outrageous and, honestly, very hurtful.”
Two weeks ago, responding to news that Biden had decided to nominate Emanuel as ambassador to Japan, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) sent out a cogent tweet: “Black Lives Matter can’t just be a slogan. It has to be reflected in our actions as a government, and as a people. Rewarding Rahm Emanuel’s cover up of Laquan McDonald’s murder with an ambassadorship is not an act that reflects a value of or respect for Black lives.”
The post of ambassador to Japan would put Emanuel in the thick of economic and military policies. Japan has the world’s third-largest economy. The U.S. currently has two dozen military bases in Japan. A recklessly confrontational military approach in East Asia would get a boost if the next U.S. ambassador to Japan is Emanuel, a longtime hawk who supported the Iraq war even after many Democratic leaders turned against it.
For decades, Emanuel’s career has been the opposite of diplomatic as he bombastically denounced progressives and served corporate interests while enriching himself. And his record of running interference for racist police violence while mayor of Chicago underscores what a terrible mistake it would be for the Senate to confirm him as ambassador.
Impunity for American men in uniform who commit violent crimes is a deeply emotional subject in Japan. Outrage has long festered especially on Okinawa, where women and children have been subjected to sexual assaults by U.S. military personnel stationed at bases there.
Blocking the nomination of Rahm Emanuel to be the USA’s top envoy to Japan won’t bring back Laquan McDonald or any of the other African Americans murdered by police. But it would send a strong signal to mayors and other public officials that covering up brutal police violence is bad for career advancement.
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.